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Chemotherapy for Uterine Cancer

Uterine Sarcoma: Chemotherapy 

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anticancer medicines to kill cancer cells. The medicines are made to attack and kill cancer cells that grow quickly. Some normal cells also grow quickly. Because of this, chemotherapy can also harm those cells. This can cause side effects.

When might chemotherapy be used to treat uterine sarcoma?

Your doctor may advise chemotherapy in any of these cases: 

  • You have had surgery to remove uterine sarcoma. Chemotherapy can help kill any remaining cancer cells.

  • The cancer doesn’t appear to have spread outside the uterus, but you have risk factors for the spread of the cancer. 

  • You’re being treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.

  • You’re being treated with a combination of hormone therapy and chemotherapy.

  • The cancer has spread and can’t be controlled with other treatments.

  • The cancer has returned after you have been treated. 

Chemotherapy in cycles

You get chemotherapy medicine in cycles over a period of time. That means you may take the medicine for a set amount of time and then you have a rest period. Each period of treatment and rest is 1 cycle. You may have several cycles. Having treatment in cycles helps by: 

  • Killing more cancer cells. The medicine can kill more cancer cells over time, because cells aren't all dividing at the same time. Cycles allow the medicine to fight more cells.

  • Giving your body a rest. Treatment is hard on other cells of the body that divide quickly. This includes cells in the lining of the mouth and stomach. This causes side effects, such as sores and nausea. Between cycles, your body can get a rest from the chemotherapy.

  • Giving your mind a rest. Having chemotherapy can be stressful. Taking breaks between cycles can let you get an emotional break between treatments.

Chemotherapy medicines used for uterine sarcoma

The medicines most often used for uterine sarcoma include: 

  • Doxorubicin hydrochloride

  • Ifosphamide 

  • Cisplatin 

  • Paclitaxel

  • Gemcitabine

  • Docetaxel

  • Dacarbazine

  • Temozolomide

  • Vinorelbine

You may take more than 1 medicine. This is called combination therapy. Which medicines you get and how often you get them depend on many factors. If you get chemotherapy, you may have it along with another type of cancer treatment.

What to expect during chemotherapy                                                                                                                 

Chemotherapy is most often given through an IV. The treatment may be done as an outpatient visit to a hospital. This means you go home the same day. Or it may be at your healthcare provider’s office, a chemotherapy clinic, or at home. In some cases, you may stay in the hospital during treatment. 

If you need to have an IV for each cycle of chemotherapy, it can be helpful to have a vein (venous) access device or an indwelling catheter. A catheter is a thin, flexible tube. The catheter would stay in place between cycles so that you don't have a new IV started each time you get treatment. 

One end of the tube is placed into a vein near your heart. The other end is placed just under the skin or comes out through the skin. The chemotherapy can then be connected to it when you have treatment. Your healthcare team will talk with you about the risks and benefits a venous access device or indwelling catheter. 

Common side effects of chemotherapy

Side effects are common with chemotherapy, but it's important to know that they can often be prevented or controlled. The side effects usually go away when the treatment ends. Side effects depend on the type and amount of medicines you’re taking. They vary from person to person. 

Some common temporary side effects include: 

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Mouth sores

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Hair loss

  • Infections from low white blood cell levels

  • Easy bruising or bleeding from low blood platelet levels

  • Tiredness from low red blood cell levels

  • Loss of appetite

  • Dizziness

  • Skin problems, such as dryness, rash, blistering, or darkening skin

  • Tingling, numbness, or swelling in hands or feet

Most of side effects will go away or get better between treatments and a few weeks after treatment ends. You may also be able to help control some of these side effects. Tell your healthcare providers about any side effects you have. They can help you cope with the side effects. 

Checking your health during chemotherapy

You will have blood tests done regularly while you're getting chemotherapy to make sure you aren't having harmful reactions. Make sure you ask which problems mean you should call your healthcare provider right away. For example, chemotherapy can make you more likely to get infections. Your healthcare provider may advise you to call them if you have any of these symptoms: 

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Shaking chills

  • Redness, swelling, and warmth at the site of an injury or IV catheter

  • New cough or shortness of breath

  • Nasal congestion

  • Burning during urination

Talk with your healthcare provider

It may be helpful to keep a diary of your side effects. Write down physical, thinking, and emotional changes. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your appointments. It will also make it easier for you to work with your medical team to make a plan to manage your side effects.